In a so-called VUCA – Volatility, uncertainty, complexity & ambiguity – environment, it’s essential for HR to take an evidence-based approach. Perfect timing to ask a few questions to Rob Briner, Professor of Organizational Psychology at Queen Mary, University of London, and also Scientific Director of the Center for Evidence-Based Management. Rob has received several awards for his work and topped HR Magazine’s Most Influential Thinker list in 2016.

Promoting Evidence Based Decisions seems more and more crucial in a connected and fake news world. Why HR managers should pay a particular attention this approach?

Because if HR managers want to do (A) what’s important for their organization and (B) implement practices and solutions that are more likely to work, there’s only one way they can do that: by collecting and using evidence both about the problem and potential solution.


Nothing to do with the VUCA times theory - a picture you consider not only as false but also influencing our decisions in a bad way?

I think the ‘need for speed’ is almost always exaggerated and is often used as an excuse (by almost all of us!) for not spending sufficient time and effort to understand a problem as precisely as possible.


You also analysed engagement or job satisfaction trends. Should we refresh our definitions, but also our measurement concepts?

I think the key thing always from an evidence-based practice is to focus first on the problem. What exactly is the ‘problem’? Is employee engagement or job satisfaction really an important cause of that problem? What is the evidence for that?  So yes, definitions of employee engagement are a mess – and so is its measurement – but before we even deal with those issues we need to focus on the real problems going on in our organizations. Once identified it may be that engagement is the cause and therefore increasing engagement may be the answer – but many other things may be much more important.


Can you share examples of major issues that could be avoided thanks to Evidence-Based Management?

First, I think HR’s urge to follow ultimately unhelpful fads and fashions can be controlled by adopting evidence-based practice. Second, by taking this approach, HR is much more likely to make the most effective use of its resources:  Making decisions on hunch or with poor quality evidence wastes a lot of time and money and energy. Third, HR is often worried about its reputation: By explicitly adopting an evidence-based approach, focusing on important problems and doing stuff that’s more likely to work they are likely to get taken much more seriously by the business.


You recently mentioned on Twitter - referring to a study from Wharton suggesting that gender diversity on boards does not boost company performance -  that attempting to make business case for what is ethically right is simply morally bankrupt. Is this an invitation to rethink CSR initiatives globally?

Clearly, if “doing the right thing” has financial benefits for a business that’s a ‘win-win’. However, once we start to argue we should do the right thing BECAUSE it has financial benefits we are on vary shaky moral ground. And yes, this has wider implications for lots of CSR initiatives.


Beyond training, how should we start to rethink HR concretely to better implement EBM: brainstorming, bootcamps, etc?

I think the best way to learn is by doing. The Center for Evidence-Based Management and CIPD do offer courses and I would always recommend that a HR Team learns to do evidence-based practice by applying to a real project they are currently working on.


Regarding HR data analytics, can we still trust the KPIs we’re using?

For something to be a KPI we need good evidence that it really is measuring something that relates in an important way to performance.  A good example of a KPI which usually seems to be inappropriate is scores on engagement surveys.  We cannot know whether changes in engagement scores are a meaningful KPI unless we know with some degree of certainty that engagement is a strong predictor of performance.


A last one on "Emotional Intelligence": has this buzzword hits the HR floors here too?

I think Emotional Intelligence is probably slightly important in a very few situations for a few people. The problem is the claims about its importance have tended to be hugely exaggerated and so HR has tended to pay it far too much attention.


Interview by Fabien Amoretti

Publié le 05 février 2018